Creative Living: An Interview with Lewis Evans

Text by Raffi Wineburg
Photos by Gabriel Pliska
A woman lies with her eyes closed in a half-filled bathtub. Copper-veined leaves hide her breasts. A flash bursts from a camera. Then many more. Of these photos, one will be developed, framed and finally hung in the same bathroom where it was taken. This happens in each room of a large house. A model posing,  a photographer taking pictures.

There is probably some deep artistic meaning behind this. Or maybe it’s just a rich man’s vanity, redecorating his home with photos of his own home. Either way, it’s compelling, creative — much like the photographer himself: Lewis Evans.

Lewis has lived his life this way — not photographing models in rich men’s houses, but by being creative, by stretching the boundaries of what he knows he can do.

Along with the photo decorations, Lewis’ commissioner requested shots of his two Great Danes. The dogs wanted no such thing. So Lewis tried his hands at something new. He immortalized the two beasts in an oil painting — his very first. It must have turned it okay; it’s still hanging today.

Sitting under the sun on the back porch of his Kitsilano home, Lewis and I are just beginning to sweat. He tugs at his collared shirt to cool off before launching into the details of a life of creativity.

Born in England, Lewis made the “sensible” decision to enroll in engineering school. He quickly dropped out (“I should have been an artist from the get-go”).

He began work as a graphic designer, and a photographer. From this, he transitioned to marketing communications, working for the U.N. around HIV AIDS. He’s an inventor. An artist. A creative business consultant. He teaches courses on creativity. He just published his first novel, a geopolitical thriller called Hominine. “I didn’t know it was difficult to write a book,” he said. “So I just wrote it.”

This August, Lewis had his latest “crazy idea.” He decided to put on an art event in 30 days. 

He chuckles as he admits, “I had no idea what I was talking about.”

So he set to work quickly. Within several days, he had partnered with the Institute of Families, a local non-for-profit organization that improves child and youth mental health in Canada.

Working with their executive director, Keli Anderson, Lewis found a venue—the Dodson House on East Hastings—booked a band, and inspiring speakers liked Kindness Foundation founder Brock Tully, connected with other local artists and successfully put on the show in his self-imposed deadline.

Artists Brent Ray Fraser, Juan Contreras, Jude Kusnierz and photographer Darma Kulic  all contributed work at discounted prices. The event featured a silent auction, with 50% of proceeds going to the artists, and the other half benefitting the Institute of Families.

“The reason for [splitting the proceeds] is so it’s sustainable,” said Lewis. “I want this to be the first of many events; you can’t keep going back to artists and ask them to give their work away.”

What’s next for Lewis is a mystery. Perhaps he’ll put on another art-show or write a new novel. He will definitely keep painting. Curiosity keeps him moving forward.  “The more things I do, the more curious I get and the more exciting it gets,” he says. “Each thing takes me somewhere new.”

Wherever that new place is, it will be inspired by creativity.

For Lewis, creativity is basic to human life.

“If we don’t exercise [creativity] we are not whole. You cannot fully be yourself or work to your own potential if you are not creative.”

It sounds very powerful. But what does Lewis really mean by ‘creativity’?

On one level, creativity is abstract, impossible to pin-down. Lewis himself can’t define it without getting confused (“people generally define creativity in terms of creativity, which doesn’t make any sense”).

On another level, it’s very simple: creating something new, a joke, a story, a painting, a business forecasting model.

“There’s a saying,” Lewis tells me, “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.”

Certainly not. Our ancestors smelted ore and enjoyed the Bronze Age. For all the many advancements since, we can thank creativity.

Yet creativity, in this day in age, is elusive as ever.  

“I think [creativity] is inherent in everyone,” Lewis said. “But it gets pushed out. It gets educated out of us in all sorts of ways.”

Young kids go through standardized schools. Questions have answers. Intelligence is given a number, and pitted against other numbers, a national average. University students with Bachelor of Arts Degrees are ridiculed, told to enjoy their jobs working at Starbucks. The Arts themselves are celebrated yet perpetually underfunded.

Our society can sometimes treat people like dehydrated fruit: sucking out the flavor, trading taste for shelf-life and uniqueness for product consistency. For every societal standard we meet, a little bit of our creative juices get squeezed out. As life gets compartmentalized, processed, people become slightly more dry. Artists become accountants. Creativity becomes a rare commodity. Which is not to say, of course, that there is something wrong with process, or routine, but only, if you never break it, how can you be creative?

So how does Lewis stay creative? He starts all his endeavors from scratch — what he calls the “beginners mind.”  No thoughts, ideas. Only a blank canvas, or a page. Some paint. Or pencils.

“The beginner’s mind is the antithesis to the world of production and processes,” he said. “Even creative people have processes, but I’m trying to take it one step back from that. Because if you have process your developing technique, your creating sameness. I’m trying not even to do that.”

It’s somewhat unfair for Lewis to talk about creativity, and a beginner’s mind, and removing technique and process in order to express your creative self. I say that, only because Lewis is enormously talented. I imagine it’s easy to be creative if you can just decide to do an oil painting of some Great Danes. I’m still stuck on stick figures and squiggly lines.

But now I’m being unfair. Because creativity isn’t just about art or poetry or whatever other associations the word brings. It is, once again, about producing something, anything new, valuable.

We all have the capacity to create. It’s up to us, says Lewis, whether we do or not.

“People like process. You don’t have to be yourself, a lot of people feel more comfortable that way, just fitting in,” said Lewis.  “In fact, all of society is built around that isn’t it? Trying to make people fit in, and running smoothly.”

He gives a little laugh, shaking his head before continuing.

“But the satisfaction that you get from taking the leap, going into the unknown and embracing the ambiguity and chaos around creativity far outweighs staying with what you got.”{{}}

Collective art piece donated to the Dodson House